How to Build a 100-Year-Old Agency
How to Build a 100-Year-Old Agency

The importance of values and reputation power what we do here.

“To build a company to last 100 years, you must be obsessive about values, reputation, and promoting from within,” wrote Bo Burlingham in “Built to Last,” an article in the current issue of Inc. magazine.

A simple quote in structure, yet deep in meaning.

I thought about this quote as it relates to my businesses, 1851, of course, and its funder, No Limit Agency. I also thought about how this statement could be applied to the greatest brands I have worked with, as well as those who are laser-focused on winning.

One hundred years is a long time. So long that anyone who is delivering that advice surely hasn’t created a business that could be that old. But, there are some nice guiding principles within its foundation.

Be obsessive about values: At No Limit Agency, admittedly, this is one we have struggled a bit with — not necessarily in practice, more so in theory. The CEO of Toppers Pizza, Scott Gittrich, has nailed this quality, in my opinion. Along with his team, he developed core values for his brand that his staff seem to live each and every day. Live, not work. He has built an army of corporate staff, franchisees and store-level employees who follow the company values, and when they don’t, the process naturally removes them from the ride. At our company, we tried defining the values of the company, only to have them turn into a chore versus an anthem. In talking with my team, we seemingly landed on something that could work for us: Give a shit. That’s what we do at No Limit; we just haven’t defined it. I agree that to be a winning organization for a long time, you must be obsessive about values, but they cannot be forced. Don’t create core values for the sake of creating core values. That’s where we went wrong. Let the values be created by the culture and be willing to adjust to changing times. Be obsessive about finding the path, not obsessive about forcing the definition.

Be obsessive about reputation: This is something I believe we got right from day one — and I believe it is something that starts at the top. Part of the obsession about reputation could be created from my own insecurities growing up the fat kid, in that I have a great fear of disappointing others for fear that I will only get one chance to get it right. A lot of reputation is integrity — doing the right thing when no one is looking. We have been good at that. It’s also transparency and doing what you say you are going to do. When you make a mistake, having the willingness to say you’re sorry and make it right. And be willing to listen to criticism, and learn from it. The importance of reputation is different for everyone, but for us, if we are going to be considered great long after I am gone, then keeping a disruptive results, relationship, service and strategic approach will be essential to us winning.

Be obsessive about promoting from within: I wish we were better at this. If you have read my previous columns on culture — getting it right with your team, knowing that people power business — then you understand that I am obsessive about getting this right. It has just been a little slower for us to be great it. Obsessive, yes; great, not yet. Promoting from within starts with hiring right. When our VP Lauren Boukas joined our agency, she placed a lot of focus on getting it right with the hire versus my approach of hiring people who had “sunshine” and “potential.” This has slowed down our process a bit but has hopefully set a new path so that we will be able to hire better in the future.

What about your company? Have you focused on these three obsessive areas? How are you doing?

We are taking the right steps to potentially have a business or businesses that are built to last, but we have a lot more work to do. I wonder if those businesses that have been around for 100 years are still obsessive about the above categories. For me as a leader and us as a company, I believe that focusing on the above three will help create an umbrella or guidelines for what we need to pay attention to as a leadership team and then see if it helps make our company better.